Texts: Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7; Psalm 66:1-12; 2 Kings 5:1-3,7-15c (consider going to 19a); Psalm 111; 2 Timothy 2:8-15; Luke 17:11-19
Theme: Sometimes we are the stranger, called to live in a new place to which God has sent us. Sometimes we are the ones called to welcome the stranger. Always we are conscious that the outsider, the stranger, and the foreigner have a special place in the heart of Christianity, because they have a special place in the heart of God.
The outsider, the stranger, and the foreigner have a special place in the heart of Christianity. Today’s readings invite us to reflect on how we act when we are the stranger, and how we respond towards the foreigner.
The reading from Jeremiah 29 is a portion of the letter Jeremiah sent to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. While they are outsiders they are not to remain aloof from the culture, they are settle into the place where God has sent them. That means being planted there – praying for the place and seeking its welfare. Psalm 66 which goes with the Jeremiah reading describes the place they have gone into exile as being a spacious place – a place with room to grow (physically, spiritually, as a community).
When we are strangers how do we act? Do we stand aloof? Do we begrudge being sent to a place that is not our home? In many ways Christians in North America feel like outsiders in the face of secularization. It is easy to be bitter about being strangers in a strange land (a land we thought was ours). Jeremiah invites us to pray for the secular city, to seek the welfare of the post-Christendom culture where God has sent us.
The heroes of the Elisha and Namaan story in 2 Kings are the nameless Israelite girl and Namaan’s unnamed servants. Outsiders with little or no power and influence, they guide Namaan on the road to conversion. (The preacher should seriously consider having the reading continue until 2 Kings 5:19a.) The Israelite girl is a slave in Aram; she is an outsider, a nobody. Namaan’s crisis and her words turn Namaan from an insider into an outsider, who stands knocking on the door of Elisha. It is the servants, outsiders to power who convince Namaan to try washing in the dirty Jordan River. And Namaan goes home an outsider to the religion of Aram, but an insider of God’s kingdom.
The servant girl is an example of how people of faith who are strangers to the culture in which they live should act. Even while in exile she cares about the people around her who are holding her in this place of exile. She cares for her captors, cares enough to want to help them be healed. In humility she says “I wish you could meet this person who I know would make a difference in your life.” She invites us even as strangers to speak of the God we serve who makes a difference in the lives of everyone who will let him lead.
The writer of 2 Timothy is in prison, an extreme kind of exile, but the gospel message is not chained, the good news is still proclaimed. The situation the follower of Jesus is living in says nothing about the spread of the good news. For Jesus who was crucified as a criminal has been raised to life again. The outsider has a message to proclaim. The invitation in the trustworthy saying is to take up our cross and die with Jesus, becoming outsiders. As outsiders, strangers come to find ourselves saved by the grace of God which reaches even outsiders.
The ten lepers in Luke are outsiders, forced by their disease to live away from the community. One of them, the Samaritan is a double outsider – a leper and a Samaritan. The nine once they were healed returned to being insiders, missing the opportunity to express the gratitude that comes to all who realize that Jesus has turned them from enemies into friends.
Luke invites hearers of his text to ask themselves, “Can I still remember the joy of becoming a friend of God, a part of God’s kingdom, or have I lost that joy?” Readers are also invited to ask, “How well do I welcome the strangers who God is making into his friends? Are they becoming my friends as well?” “Do I rejoice when God brings the outsider, the stranger, the foreigner into my community of faith?”
The advice given by Jeremiah was revolutionary…The people were to settle down….Such advice would not have been easy to accept for people who had been carried off from their homeland by those for whom Jeremiah was asking them to pray. No doubt the advice was practical. Any other approach would result in deep resentment… – J. A. Thompson
For Luke the most attractive part of the story was that the Samaritan, by his eager appreciation, showed up his Jewish fellow-sufferers, and gave a foretaste of the opening of the kingdom to the Gentiles. – G.B. Caird
All God’s gifts are meant to lead us to the Person who is his Supreme Gift to humanity. It is strange behavior to take then and ignore him. – David Gooding
- Great is Thy faithfulness
- Amazing grace
- O Christ, the healer, we have come (Fred Pratt Green)
- Take up your cross, the Saviour said
- Ten men, lepers in a Hebrew town
- God of the sparrow
Wholeness of the sick and Home of the exile,
give us grace to seek the well-being
of those among whom we live,
so that all people may come to know the healing of your love
and new voices join to give you thanks in Jesus Christ. Amen.
(Revised Common Lectionary Prayers copyright © 2002)
O God of compassion, through the witness of a captive maidservant
you healed Naaman in the waters of the Jordan.
Through Jesus you healed the lepers.
Heal us so that we may follow Christ with joy,
giving thanks with all our being. Amen.
(Revised Common Lectionary Prayers copyright © 2002)
EVANGELECTIONARY – Oct. 13, 2013 (Thanksgiving in Canada)
Texts: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35
Theme: Gratitude transforms our lives by its invitation to be people who give thanks, trust in God’s grace, and take action in the world rooted in our gratitude to God.
Gratitude is so uncommon it often stands out. Gratitude is attractive because (at its best) it points away from the speaker and draws attention to the one being thanked. There is something winsome about people who point towards another as being worthy of attention.
These passages highlight three characteristics of gratitude:
1. Gratitude regards the past as a place where God has acted for good, the present as a place where good can be found.
2. Gratitude uses the good of past and present to fuel hope and trust in God’s promises.
3. Gratitude invites us to action rooted in the gifts we have received.
The long recitation of the past in Deut 26 makes the past (even the distant past) a present reality. Vs 5 begins by talking about an ancestor in the third person. In vs. 6 the oppression was not meted out on some distant ancestor, it was meted out on “us”. In vs. 8, 9 God is the actor who saved “us”. Which leads to vs. 10, “I bring the first fruit…” The past has become the present, the third person ancestor has become the first person “I”. God’s past actions are remembered in the present for those actions of God have a living reality now.
The Psalm hints at the same truth God made us (past tense) “and we are his” (present tense). The past implicates the present. A point driven home at the end, God’s faithfulness endures “to all generations.”
Philippians invites us to reflect on the pure and noble and excellent and praise-worthy, all which within the context of the passage are the results of God’s handiwork. These things past or present when reflected on invite praise and celebration: gratitude.
The passage from John recounts what happens in the wake of the feeding of the 5,000 – an act of great generosity and grace. God’s goodness in feeding the 5,000 is linked to God’s feeding the people on the wilderness journey to the Promised Land. All of which connects with Jesus as the ultimate bread of life.
The practice of thanksgiving outlined in Deut 26 begins with giving some of “the first of all the fruit of the ground”, to give the first fruit implies a trust that God will provide additional crop, crop that will not be destroyed by sudden hail or other acts of nature before it can be harvested. Living dependent on the manna from heaven, referred to in the John passage, required trust that God would provide manna again tomorrow and the day after that, because manna could not be stored (except for one day if the next day was Sabbath). Philippians suggests that non-worry is the appropriate stance of the follower of Jesus. A non-worry fed by thanksgivings and reflection of the good, pure, etc., all of which produces peace which passes understanding, even in the hard times of life. The psalm drives home the point with its affirmation that “the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever.”
Gratitude leads to action. In Deut that action is to take the first fruits that have been brought to the temple and “celebrate” together with the “Levites and the aliens” (the landless ones, the ones who did not have a crop to rejoice in.) In Philippians the action gratitude draws forth is following Paul’s example and living into the reality of the God of peace being part of our lives. In the Psalm the action is making a joyful noise and worshipping God with gladness and song. In John, Jesus says “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Believing in Jesus is an action that grows from gratitude. Believing in Jesus means following his example, giving Jesus the leadership of our lives. Gratitude leads us to conversion, not just the first time, but again and again.
“The cure for worry, therefore, is (1) in prayer and thanksgiving, giving to God every care, every unreasonable anxiety, every harassing burden and trusting him to take care of these worrisome matters, (2) in deliberately filling one’s mind constantly with good thoughts that are praise-worthy, true, majestic and awe-inspiring, just, pure, attractive, high-toned, and (3) in putting into practice the supreme teachings of the gospel that one has learned both from having heard them spoken and having seen them lived.” – Gerald Hawthorne
“He (Jesus) Himself will be the Donor, the Baker, the Waiter, the Brewer, yes, the Cook, and also the Dish and the Plate that gives us the imperishable food….We cannot give ourselves this food: we must obtain it from the Son of Man.” – Martin Luther
“We must keep this paradox: God gives faith to us; we must give (and are enabled to give) this faith back to God.” – Frederick Dale Bruner
- Jesus, Thou joy of loving hearts
- As when a shepherd calls his sheep
- O happy day that fixed my choice
- Rejoice, O pure in heart (Plumptre)
- We plough the fields and scatter
O God, when I have food,
help me to remember the hungry;
When I have work,
help me to remember the jobless;
When I have a home,
help me to remember those who have no home at all;
When I am without pain,
help me to remember those who suffer,
help me to destroy my complacency;
bestir my compassion,
and be concerned enough to help, by word and deed,
those who cry out for what we take for granted. Amen.
(Samuel F. Pugh)
In the midst of our thanksgiving,
let us pause in silence
to recall how we so often
lose sight of the gifts of each day and of their Giver.
(a moment of silence)
Let us pray.
O God, we know that we forget about you,
we forget to love you,
we forget to help our neighbours,
we forget to thank you.
(a moment of silence for private confession)
Grant us clear minds to know you,
new hearts to love you
strong hands to serve you
Help us live this day, this week, and always
so that our whole life is a thanksgiving to you. Amen.
(The United Church of Canada)